Clips, Hyperlocal

The Rubber Bracelet Revolution

What does a perky student South Dakota State University student, an elderly Wal-Mart cashier, and a redoubtable Brookings motor licensing official, have in common?

They belong to different age brackets and have different vocations in life. But all of them sport an unstoppably cool band that’s a charity symbol.

Something that started as a pure fund-raising drive for cancer research soon bloomed into a fashion trend.

“Live Strong” wristbands, the brainchild of cycling champion and cancer survivor Lance Armstrong, have taken the nation by storm ever since they made their appearance in June 2004.

Created by the Lance Armstrong Foundation and sponsored by the sports goods manufacturer Nike, the wristbands were originally estimated to sell five million.

But sales soon surpassed that figure. As of date, more than 33 million have been sold worldwide.

Single-day sales soared past the 900,000 mark on February 11, 2005, with the appearance of Armstrong and Sheryl Crow on the “Oprah Winfrey Show.”

President Bush wears one. So do several celebrities including Bono, Alec Baldwin, Bruce Willis, Robin Williams, Matt Damon, and Ben Stiller.

The bands mean different things to different people.

Sarah Madison, a freshman, explains her reasons for wearing the band: “I first heard about them from friends. I thought I’ll get one because it’s a cool thing to wear and also because I support donations,” she said.

For others, it’s about sporting a fan talisman. Marla Leitzke, who bought over 30 bands, said, she bought some for herself and some as gifts for her family. “I wear the band because I’m an Armstrong fan. But we have cancer in the family.”

The Sioux River Cyclery, the downtown outlet known for its bikes, started selling the bands a month after they were launched. Robb Rasmussen, the store’s owner and manager said, “We sold about 2,000 last year alone. We sell each for a dollar, though the postage on each band is about 30 cents.”

They’re made of silicone and come in close to a dozen shades and color combinations. The first-generation bands that rolled out of the Armstrong Foundation were yellow in color and continue to be so.

Gauging their popularity, other organizations too, came out with copycat wristbands that are available in a variety of other shades: pink stands for breast cancer research; red denotes AIDS; a combination of white and blue for tsunami relief; gray for “Jesus Loves Me.”

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